Chennai: The historic St. Andrews Church (The Kirk), regarded as an engineering marvel whose design is recognised as one of the most beautiful Georgian structures in the world, turns 200 on today (Friday).
This Scottish Church, with a congregation of over 500 families now, is conspicuous with its high steeple. The church is situated on the Poonamallee High Road, next to Egmore railway station. The Kirk will erupt in celebration to commemorate the occasion with a Thanksgiving service highlighting the architectural heritage of the building as well as its significance through the years.
A commemorative booklet will be released during the service with an account of the construction, while another service on Sunday at 9 am will continue the celebrations to mark the milestone.
“The faith, belief and passion of the Scottish community at the time inspired them to build a place of worship of this scale, when the area around it was a flat plain. Today, St Andrews is a living church with a congregation of more than 500 families,” says Rev Isaac Johnson, pastor of St Andrews Church.
The first stone for the church was laid by Rev Dr John Allan at a simple ceremony on April 6, 1818, on the North West side of the foundations below the steeple.
It had a brass plate with an inscription in English and Latin, with several coins of the British and Madras currency placed below it. A parchment with the inscription in Tamil and Telugu, sealed in a bottle along with more coins of the period, was also laid with the first stone.
The structure is perfectly circular with a diameter of 81 feet, with an inner circle of 16 fluted Corinthian columns that hold up a resplendent dome made up of bricks and cones of pottery 51½ feet in diameter. The dome was later coloured with lapis lazuli with stars to depict the night sky over Scotland. This circular nave holds most of the congregation during times of worship. The 111¾ foot high steeple of the Kirk, the tallest in Chennai, is a landmark that soars 166 ½ feet above the ground.
The steeple rising above the vestibule of the church has three storeys besides a spire and a ball. The first storey is square with Venetian doors, the second octagonal with columns and the third circular with eight Corinthian columns. The spire on an octagonal base is fluted, tapering into a steep pyramid.
Says Dulip Thangasamy, Secretary of the Kirk Session, “the structure is not only an engineering marvel, its design is recognised as one of the most beautiful Georgian structures in the world. It was designed and built by Major Thomas de Havilland with Colonel Caldwell as Chief Engineer, at a time when a number of Neo Classical churches were being built in England and Scotland. St Andrews follows this style with a circular church entered through a portico with Corinthian columns below a pediment. Its design, scale and balance make it a breathtaking edifice and a place of worship.”St Andrews Church was consecrated in 1821 and its bi-centenary will be celebrated in 2021. The church follows the Scottish Presbyterian tradition.